Complaint about Panorama cooling tower footage upheld

The BBC Trust yesterday upheld a complaint made against a Panorama programme about open cast mining.

A sequence in ‘Comeback Coal’, broadcast on BBC1 in December, paired commentary on carbon dioxide emissions from coal fired power stations with pictures of cooling towers.

Shots of water vapour billowing from cooling towers were shown as a voiceover stated that burning fossil fuels, particularly coal, was responsible for up to 80 per cent of the global rise in carbon dioxide emissions.

A viewer complained to the BBC Trust that the montage misrepresented the cooling towers as chimneys emitting carbon dioxide and pollutants, breaching the BBC’s own guidelines.

The Trust’s editorial complaints unit initially rejected the complaint, saying: “it was reasonable to assume that viewers would understand that the cooling towers were being used to illustrate a more general point.”

However, on appeal the committee changed its decision and upheld its complaint as the matter had to be considered from the perspective of the viewer.

It ruled that the overall effect of the sequence was misleading but acknowledged: “There was no suggestion in the material before it [the montage] that the programme had sought to mislead the audience.”

BBC News had issued guidance on the use of footage of cooling towers to specialist science correspondents and newsroom output editors, but not to Panorama.

The Committee noted that these guidelines were clear, and recommended that they be shared with all areas of factual programming to avoid repeating inaccurate use of this kind of footage.

The Committee rejected a second complaint made about the programme.

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